Not too long ago, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) made headlines and serious waves by becoming the first major party to come up with a detailed education policy. Like any policy, it was far from perfect, yet it was a highly commendable first on our political scene for a variety of reasons. First, it forced other parties to discuss education as part of their party manifestos. Second, the PTI education policy had highlighted a number of high priority areas that are desperately needed to take our education system out of the deep hole it currently resides in. Finally, the PTI model proposed to integrate education with social development, including schooling for girls, teacher training and introduction of schools in remote villages.
In the post-May 11 world, the PTI now finds itself in an intriguing position. It has formed government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), where issues of security are more pronounced than other parts of the country. Also, in the post-Eighteenth Amendment landscape, all things to do with education are the responsibility of the provincial governments. Finally, it is also safe to say that a significant portion of the PTI vote bank, both locally and nationally, cares deeply about education. Given these complex circumstances, the PTI’s education policy will be watched by many as a litmus test on both the core values of the party and the practical considerations of governing the province.
For me, personally, there are three major promises that I hope the new K-P government is able to keep. First is the promise to significantly increase spending on education. By no means is this an easy task, especially given the security and the energy crises. But for a party to make education a centrepiece of its election campaign and not even attempt to deliver would have long-term consequences. There is little doubt that the system of education is spiralling out of control. Poor governance, corruption, lack of teacher training and dilapidated infrastructure are just a few of the challenges faced by the local educational system that would require serious investment and significantly improved quality control practices.
Second is the issue of access. In the land of Malala Yousafzai, where brave female students risk their lives to attend schools, the issue of ensuring quality education for the female half of the school-going population is not going to be easy. There are real, deeply-rooted social norms that need to be challenged to ensure access for girls’ education. Even during elections, there were widespread reports of “community leaders” ensuring that women did not leave their homes to vote in places such as Lower Dir. This is a formidable challenge but also, a real test of the resolve of the party leadership in creating a more equal and just society.
Finally, I am eager to find out how the landscape of higher education in the province unfolds under the PTI leadership. The PTI has made some bold promises about innovation and research in science and technology. Existing universities in the province, barring one which is highly selective and private, have not had any substantial impact on innovation even at the national level. Research is expensive and in a country where electricity is more often unavailable than available, the price to keep a provincial innovation engine running is beyond astronomical. But as is the case with other challenges, inaction is no longer an option.
There is no doubt that there are many other high-profile challenges for the incoming K-P government, but I hope that this time, education will not be an afterthought ministry. Just as during the campaign, the PTI set the precedence in discussing education, I hope that they will also set the precedence of making education a priority during governance.
There are some reports in the media that the Jamaat-e-Islami might get the education portfolio. While that may be the case, the buck eventually stops with the chief minister. For a lot of observers, including myself, he will not only play a role in the future of K-P, he, more than anyone else, will also shape the future national prospects of the party.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2013.
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